Tuesday, June 06, 2023

First Play Review: Tomb Raider [2013]

I do recall trying to master the very finicky control system using the the keyboard's directional number-pad to manipulate a heavily polygonal Lara Croft in a demo of the original Tomb Raider in 1996. Despite how cool the game looked (for it's time) and it felt very Indiana Jones, unfortunately the controls weren't something I had the patience for at the time. I dismissed the game as something people probably weren't going to bother playing. Fast forward 17 years to 2013, after I had been proved wrong (a significantly rare occurrence I know) and Tomb Raider not only achieved success as one of the best selling games of the year but countless accolades from the industry and a BAFTA for it's creators. It had by 2013 spawned a whopping 8 sequels including a reboot.

In 2013, the media and industry buzz for the 9th Tomb Raider sequel, and second reboot of the franchise, simply titled Tomb Raider again was unavoidable and the game presented a new take on Lara Croft a more grittier re-imagining of the character, a more mature rated story and a more realistic setting and characters. In 2015 I saw the game on sale as a new one was release that year, so I bought Tomb Raider as it was marketed as a logical entry point into the franchise. Instead it became the foundation on which my backlog was built and it remained unplayed in the digital pile for 8 long years until this March where I finally installed it on the game's 10th Anniversary.

It wasn't so much the time I had been waiting to play it but more a recent surge in enjoying so much of the action adventure genre in the recent Sony releases that prompted me to finally see what Tomb Raider was all about and I wasn't left disappointed. In Tomb Raider, Lara and her friends are shipwrecked on the Island of Yamatai, depicted here as somewhere in the Pacific near Japan. It soon becomes clear that a belligerent force has also been stranded there for some time and are quite unfriendly to outsiders. As Lara Croft (Camilla Luddington), you must uncover the secrets of the island in order to save yourself and your friends from Yamatai before it becomes your tomb.

Tomb Raider is an action adventure game in the purest sense. Gone was the crazy control system that so put me off the original and Lara had now become as easy to control as Kratos or Spider-Man once you came to terms with the movement, camera and unique actions. Lara is athletic, nimble and traversal is genuinely exciting especially when using climbing ropes or needing to jump and catch ledges at the last second. QTEs appear to add excitement (but mostly annoyance) to key moments in the narrative. A survival mode enhances Lara's senses revealing possible hook points, or hints how to proceed.

Combat is a mix of free-form shooting and some light QTEs for stealth and close quarter combat. Lara employs a bow, pistol, shotgun and assault rifle all which can be customised and upgraded to be more useful as you begin to engage tougher, and cleverer enemies as you progress. Enhancements to combat and survival abilities allow you to engage more with the environment opening previously inaccessible areas although there's no great reason to actually do this; it's good that it's there should one want to explore and find more tombs and secrets.

Puzzles take advantage of physics but are exceedingly simple to solve allowing you to return to action without too much of a head-scratching distraction. Although the  do take you out of the action, I did find the "challenge tombs" themselves too short or to easy to solve, they're not aptly named. Sadly from reading about previous games there seems to be two modes to Tomb Raider puzzles, exceedingly easy or deathly hard but I'd want something in between. The ones here are of the easy kind and it would not have been out of place to have them occupied by cultists rather than being empty. These are option though so they don't affect the game much.

Final Verdict: For the 20 hours I played, I kept cursing myself for not playing this when I fist purchased it, and it has made me more anxious about the unplayed gems I'll find while installing other backlogged titles. There's not much to fault with Tomb Raider, yes the tombs are a bit simplistic and the QTEs are annoying but the combat is visceral, traversal exciting and the plot compelling. I hope this continues with it's two sequels.

Technicals: 19.4 hours though Steam. 3440x1440 native @175FPS with Highest graphical settings, no mods employed or were required. HDR through Windows 11 provided some enhancement.

Bugs: One crash to desktop near the beginning. It didn't repeat.

Availability: Tomb Raider is available from Steam for €17.99. Review copy purchased in June 2015 for €9.99.

The Tomb Raider Franchise (mainline only)

  • Tomb Raider [1996]
  • Tomb Raider II [1997]
  • Tomb Raider III [1998]
  • Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation [1999]
  • Tomb Raider Chronicles [2000]
  • Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness [2003]
  • Tomb Raider: Legend [2006]
  • Tomb Raider: Anniversary [2007]
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld [2008]
  • Tomb Raider [2013]
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider [2015]
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider [2018]

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